Reflections on MAYhem, Atlanta Ballet’s Season Finale

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Peng-Yu Chen in JOrma Elo's "1st Flash." Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Peng-Yu Chen in JOrma Elo’s “1st Flash.” Photograph by Charlie McCullers, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

The final work on the program was Jorma Elo’s “1st Flash,” which the company first danced two years ago. Now, as then, I was unsure what the moving set piece was about, and there were times when the lighting was so subdued it was difficult to see the dancers from mid-house, but the movement was exciting. The piece featured intricate patterns and intriguing formations as the dancers moved from the light to the dark and back again. The choreography was very musical, although in unusual ways: The dancers frequently moved in contrast to the music, with slow music and very fast dancing. As they passed between darkness and light, dancers often continued to move while the music was silent. Jackie Nash was most successful at performing the difficult choreography with clarity, managing to fully extend each movement and give it a nanosecond of pause before progressing to the next, even at top speed.

In thinking back over this Atlanta Ballet season, two things stand out. One is its compressed length, which allowed the company to tour China and prepare for the upcoming Wabi Sabi season. This shortened season puts greater demands on the bodies and minds of the dancers, with less time to assimilate different choreographic and musical styles, learn new works, and recuperate from the heavy demands of rehearsals. The other is the intense usage of the dancers. It has not been uncommon in Atlanta Ballet’s mixed-repertoire performances for dancers to perform back-to-back, a feat John Welker accomplished in all three pieces in the Modern Choreographic Voices concert in March, just as Christian Clark and Nadia Mara did in MAYhem in “The Exiled” and “1st Flash.” The excellent technique, superhuman endurance, and unified purpose of the whole company and staff required to support this kind of effort with such demanding choreography, is enormous.

Over the past ten years or so, I have noticed a distinct trend in contemporary ballet, with body parts visibly moving other body parts, steps inspired by popular hip-hop dance, rapid level changes, and invisible transitions that make the dance exciting and challenging for both dancers and audiences. However, these devices have become the norm rather than innovation. I am ready to see where dance is going next, and the Atlanta Ballet dancers demonstrate the abilities necessary to perform whatever demands choreographers can place on them. Artistic Director John McFall has shown Atlanta that he is forward-thinking and willing to push the artistic envelope. Next year’s season will bring some reprises of works Atlanta has seen and loved, but there will be new works as well, including Helen Pickett’s first full-length piece, “Camino Real,” and ballets by Yuri Possokhov and Alexander Ekman. I hope it will also bring cutting-edge creativity and ingenious invention.

–Amy Howton

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1 Comment

  1. Sharon Story

    May 22, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Amy,
    Thank you for the review and noting how virsitale and hard our company works. They inspire us daily.
    I would like to note that this first photo is not credited. The dancer is Stephanie Hall, she is a Fellowship Dancer in the Centre for dance Education, John McFall’s , Three, photo by Kim Kenney.

    Best,
    Sharon
    Dean/Ballet Mistress Atlanta Ballet